Robert Turnbull, CEO of Betterbot talks with Patrick Antrim, CEO of Multifamily Leadership on how AI technology is impacting the Multifamily industry
Apartment marketing is evolving into more of a conversational mode. Yes, while face-to-face interaction is sure to spike considerably as the country gradually – if not swiftly – emerges from social distancing, online conversations that can serve the needs of prospective apartment residents will pick up as well.
BetterBot is a technology company that is enabling this for many of the leading apartment operators. Its bot is created quickly and easily and can be served up onto apartment communities’ websites, as well as their Yelp and Google My Business listings and social channels Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
This new alternative channel that informs prospective residents on their terms and in “right now” time frame is leading to better leasing outcomes.
BetterBot CEO, Robert Turnbull, discussed his product’s development and growth with Patrick Antrim, CEO of Multifamily Leadership, on March 10 during the Multifamily Operations Summit where thousands of viewers tuned in nationwide.
The bot engaged in 4 million guided conversations in 2020, serving lease-ups, student housing and affordable housing; 65 percent of users did so via mobile.
“Interested renters will come to an apartment community website, but they don’t want to pick up the phone and call and they really don’t want to fill out a lead form,” Turnbull says. “But they do see this little BetterBot widget down there on the site and they click on it. It’s become a third point of contact.”
“We are giving prospective residents the information that they’re looking for, the moment they’re looking for it and letting them guide their own path down the search. This way, when they’re ready and they have the information, they will schedule that appointment and come into the property.”
Turnbull says BetterBot has translated to a 20 percent to 40 percent lead to appointment lift, and is directly leading to approximately four signed leases per month per property.
More than 120 property management companies are using BetterBot, including the top 5 in NMHC’s list of the largest national operators. Among them: CF Real Estate Services LLC, Coast Property Management, KETTLER, Cushman & Wakefield, Bell Partners Inc., and Lincoln Property Company.
Turnbull has spent his 22-year career working in the apartment industry, developing products and growing companies such as RentAdvisor and Rentals.com. He’s seeing changes in renter behavior – away from filling out leasing forms, waiting for email replies and stalling out on live-chat platforms.
“There are so many missed calls and emails and texts that go without responses in the leasing office today,” he says. “Renters want accurate information instantly, even during non-business hours. We see that most inquiries are coming in between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. when most leasing offices are closed. Many say they suffer from lead fatigue.”
A ‘Tinder-ized’ Customer Experience
Today’s consumer demands digital ease of use. Whether booking flights or ordering food orders, they want to be able to control their purchase; pick their seats, choose their favorite ingredients.
“Technology has done all it can to enable apartment leasing 24-7,” Turnbull says. “That’s a good thing and a bad thing because now these communities have to be present and available on all of these channels all the time. That’s impossible. Technology has kind of created this problem, so let’s let technology solve the problem through automation.”
Turnbull says he’s ‘Tinder-ized’ the process “so that customers can just swipe and tap, swipe and tap. There’s no typing. It’s a great user experience. It eliminates complications. They don’t want to fill out lease forms over and over again. These prospects might only have a one-hour lunch to do their apartment shopping.”
With BetterBot, apartment leasing teams begin the morning reviewing conversation transcripts to see what they need to address to pursue and to close a new resident, Turnbull says.
BetterBot makes leasing agents more effective because they are privy to higher-valued conversations had by the bot. A prospect might only want to know, “Do you have any covered parking spots left?” The leasing team can use that as a conversation starter or become a problem solver because they know what the prospect is seeking.
Additionally, prospective residents could wish to return to the BetterBot conversation to learn more information. If so, Turnbull says, they come back with confidence, and the bot will remember them and what was discussed previously.
Bots Built in Two Days; No Staff Training Required
Turnbull recognizes that a key personality trait of a leasing agent is to show empathy with prospective residents.
“Our bots don’t do that, but they do handle 80 percent of the menial tasks that go with leasing, especially providing accurate, up-to-date information,” he says. “We are saving leasing offices with 80 hours’ of work time per month. Having to deal with menial tasks is a top reason why the attrition rate in our industry is so high.”
Turnbull says some have questioned the need to go outside an apartment company’s tech developers to deliver a product like.
“Can’t you build this product yourself?” he’s asked. “An apartment company could hire 15 people for a year and spend a half-million dollars to get this product. Pick your partners very carefully. They will make or break you. It’s tough a tough product to build correctly.”
But easy to install.
“We can build the bot for customers in two days, send them a link to it, and then it’s ready for them to activate it on their community website, as well as other channels,” Turnbull says.
“Onboarding for new technology is often a pain point for staff members. It can be like 50 tons of bricks falling on top of your head. Our clients don’t have to train their people on how to use the bot, because the bot does all of the work.”
The Bots of the Future
Turnbull recommends that apartment communities personalize and customize the bot, building their brand into the responses. He also says to make sure the availability for all of touring options are included: in-person, self-guided and virtual.
What happens next? “Our users will tell us, ‘Hey, I’m getting fewer emails and fewer leads?”
That is because BetterBot is replacing the typical call- and email-generated leads.
In turn, “Our customers are also getting more leases, which positively affects their bottom line,” Turnbull says. “And, auto-technology helps to give their people their time back. Choose to invest in technology that solves your biggest pain points; a survey showed that 40 percent of our industry uses automation.”
Others ask about whether there’s an option for a bot to hand-off the conversation to a human.
“It sounds logical, but it’s not ideal,” Turnbull says. “That process can become clunky and take too long. The service representative does not always become engaged with the customer right away. And, they have to review the dialogue that has already occurred, and that takes time – an average of 38 to 45 seconds. The prospect has to sit and wait and will become frustrated and impatient, so they will leave the site. These types of engagements are shown to have a less than 35 percent satisfaction score. BetterBot responds in seconds.”
Turnbull sees greater bot capabilities for apartment marketing on the horizon.
“For our product, I see ‘a big tomorrow’ coming down the road,” he says. “Soon, our bot will be able to provide a 3-D view on the resident’s journey, determine how valuable the engagement was and marketing sources were used to get there. This gives the power back to the leasing agent. They will have a better window into what the renter is interested in, what they have asked, and what info was provided to them.”
He says some companies are getting ahead of themselves when it comes to natural language processing (NLP) being used in bot communication. Don’t listen to them, he says. “NLP technology will come, but we’re not there yet. It’ll be a few years,” he says.
Meanwhile, Turnbull points to what apartment industry executive Jennifer Staciokas, Executive Managing Director of Property Management for Western Wealth Capital, said recently, “AI driven bots are coming and they are staying.”